An entangled, young humpback whale has been freed from what appeared to be a heavy mooring line and buoy that was trailing behind it, according to wildlife officials today.
The entangled, yearling whale was first reported by crew from PacWhale Eco-Adventures, which spotted the whale while out on its boat, Ocean Odyssey, on Wednesday morning off of Ukumehame, Maui.
The whale was reported to be in good condition although the line appeared to be cutting into its tail.
An authorized response team led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration arrived on scene, approached the whale from an inflatable, and was able to cut it free of at at least 140 feet of small-gauge, yellow line that was wrapped around its tail and over its fluke, along with a trawl buoy, by the end of day Wednesday.
It’s always a great feeling to free a whale of entanglement, according to Ed Lyman, Natural Resource Management specialist of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
“It swam very well afterwards,” said Lyman. “There were minimal injuries to the animal, and its overall condition was pretty good. This animal, I would argue, has an excellent chance of surviving.”
A preliminary analysis indicates that the gear was local mooring gear of considerable weight. The buoy was moderate-sized, made of hard, white plastic. They will be further analyzed to determine their possible origins as part of efforts to reduce entanglement threats for large whales in the future.
Lyman said this whale was really evasive and that it swam at unusually rapid speeds, at times in excess of six knots, likely in an an effort to “fly the gear.” If the whale were to slow down, the gear would have been like dead-weight, pulling it down.
The entanglement and its impacts were deemed life-threatening, NOAA said.
The response involved personnel from Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Fisheries, West Maui Rapid Response team (trained personnel from Ultimate Whale Watch), U.S. Coast Guard (Station Maui), NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, and two teams of whale and shark researchers from the University of Hawaii — Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
The Pacific Whale Foundation research team was also ready to assist if needed.
Efforts, meanwhile, are still underway to help another entangled whale detected off shore of Kauai.
Mariners, as well as members of the public, can help report sightings of entangled whales by calling the NOAA Marine Wildlife hotline at 888-256-9840.